East Meets West at House of Macau

IMG_5558Although I didn’t see Nicki Minaj with her entourage at the opening of House of Macau in Hollywood, rumor has it that she might stop by when in LA. This sleek modern restaurant is the newest endeavor by her manager, music mogul Manny Halley. It’s a convenient dining destination for locals and visitors to enjoy a drink and dinner before or after a show at the Pantages Theatre located just one block away.

The bartenders mix inventive and beautiful cocktails that include The Macau, made with light and dark rum, Campari, simple syrup, pineapple juice and mango puree. I ordered a lychee martini made with cranberry juice and lychee fruit before taking a tour of the multi-level space that includes an additional bar upstairs in a more intimate lounge space.

Hues of black, red and white embellish the 140-seat restaurant, and large sparkling mirrored balls hang down from the ceiling, illuminating the space. A spacious outdoor patio upstairs seats 60 people, offering a fire pit, private dining room, views of the W Hotel Hollywood and multiple VIP entrances.

Macanese cuisine, a lovely fusion of southern Chinese and Portuguese spices, gives each dish a special aroma and taste different from traditional Chinese food. This influence is due to the Portuguese Empire’s occupation in Macau from the mid-16th century until the 20th century. Under the direction of Executive Chef Christoffer Binotto, previously of Japonais by Morimoto and Michelin-starred restaurant Graham Elliot, and consulting chef Gabriel Morales, House of Macau creates Chinese-fusion hot and cold small plates in the elegant Macanese style.

General manager Brayner Ferry also served as our sommelier for the evening and paired four different wines with our IMG_5620 appetizers and entrées. The first pairing, a bubbly flute of French Pinot Blanc Brut Hubert Meyer Cremant D’ Alsace, offered a delicate nose of pear and stone fruit with hints of honey. The sparkling wine enhanced the flavors in our first dish, an elegant row of bite-size crispy rice cakes topped with orange Santa Barbara uni, a splash of sweet soy sauce and chocolate powder.

Our next appetizer, caviar canapés made with half dollar size golden blinis, included tangy Yuzu pearls on cream fraiche, egg whites and thinly sliced shallots, adding zest to this one bite appetizer. Yuzu pearls were also featured in the oysters on a half shell with a soy mignonette, brightening the dish.

The menu offers four different lettuce cups filled with stir fried shrimp, beef, ginger chicken and spicy tofu. We tasted the shrimp and ginger chicken versions that Ferry paired with a glass of 2014 Giovanni Almondo Roero Arneis Vigne Sparse from Italy. This white wine, made from grapes grown in the Roero region, offered a crisp acidity that complemented these delicious appetizers.

Sriracha added a touch of heat to the small the small ginger Ahi tuna crisp. However, the addition of smooth citrus avocado cooled down the flavors and balanced the tasty dish.

Ferry believes “everything tastes better with wine,” especially the thick smoked Kurobuta riblets bathed in a hoisin-lemongrass barbecue sauce. He paired the pork with a glass of Red Tail Ridge Pinot Noir from upstate New York in the Finger Lakes region. Aged in older French oak barrels for 10 months, the wine offers notes of red raspberry, anise and plum with hints of vanilla, earth and sweet spice. This medium-bodied wine also paired nicely with the golden crispy duck spring rolls with a sweet plum sauce and the chicken satay with a thick house-made teriyaki sauce.

Chinese barbeque pork served with long green scallions surrounding a sunny side up quail egg won for the most Macau-Chinese-BBQ-Porkbeautiful presentation. The lovely dish included crispy pork cracklings that, though deep-fried, remained light, airy and perfectly seasoned. Chef Morales said cracklings are labor intensive and take about six hours to make before being served. We spooned some of the pork, scallions and egg onto the pork skin crackling. This perfect bite balanced the smooth and creamy texture of the egg with crisp and earthy flavors from the scallions and savory and meaty notes from the pork. Together with the crackling, the dish carried a delightful crunch and intense depth of flavor.

The last glass of wine was a Spanish Vispius Somontano made with 55 percent Tempranillo, 5 percent Garnacha and 10 percent Cabernet that paired well with the heartier grilled flat iron beef satay with a black pepper sauce and flavorful seaweed. It was a winning combination.

Macau is the largest gambling center in the world and the only place in China to legally gamble. I think Halley hit the jackpot when he designed this unique and glamorous destination restaurant with a lively nightclub.

The restaurant is open daily for dinner from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. $$$ 1600 Vine St. (323)745-5038.

This article was published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers on July 23, 2015.

Free Ice Cream on July 22

image007The single-origin ice cream company Choctál celebrates National Ice Cream Month throughout July with National Vanilla Ice Cream Day on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Choctál’s vanilla flavor comes from 4 different origins including Mexican, Papua New Guinea, Indonesian & Madagascar vanilla.

Choctál will be hosting a “Chill Out” and give away free samples at City National Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles, between 515 and 555 Flower Street from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Choctál is hosting an Instagram contest through July by posting a photo showcasing their single-origin vanilla andimage006 chocolate ice cream on their Instagram feed (@choctal). Followers will be urged to regram the photo and Choctál will pick a winner every week to receive the Choctál World Tour: eight pints of their single-origin varietals.

Here is the link to learn more – http://singleorigingoodness.choctal.com

Creative Mexican Street Food and Cocktails at Cocina Condesa

It didn’t bother me that I was drinking out of a paper bag while dining at the new Cocina Condesa in Studio City. ButDSC_0478 rather than hiding a 40 oz. Modelo, the bag actually carried the crazy fun, barrio-inspired Boyz In The Hood cocktail, one of the most popular beverages at this new street food taqueria.

The cocktail is a refreshing twist on the classic gin and tonic created by executive mixologist and expert of agave spirits, Gilbert Marquez. His inspiration for this unique libation and whimsical presentation came from growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in Orange County and witnessing locals drinking malt liquor in a paper bag while walking down the street.

Marquez creates a fun, fruity cocktail served in a plastic bag with a straw, reminiscent of the delicious bags of sliced fruit peddled by street vendors. The bag carrying the banana Platanito cocktail includes bananas, lemon, cinnamon, simple syrup and fizz and arrives in a small pine wood crate as a holder.

As a brand ambassador for Illegal Mezcal, Marquez has traveled throughout Mexico and Latin America studying the agave plant and the art of mixology. He melds his expertise with his own personal style, creating unique garnishes and containers for his Latin cocktails.

His margarita Condesa is made with Damiana, a liqueur made from a shrub in Baja California. He told me it’s named after the Central American goddess of love. Since the bottle is shaped as the fertility goddess, it is usually gifted to a bride and groom at their wedding. To make this margarita, the bartenders mix Damiana with tequila, lime, simple syrup and salt. Then they rim the glass with sugar, cinnamon, salt and cayenne pepper. The refreshing drink and tangy rim perfectly complement Chef M. Elena Vega’s street food.

We sat at a table inside the brightly colored restaurant that features refurbished wood on the walls and intricate concrete and wood accented flooring. The outdoor patio in the front is a prime spot to sit during sunset and in the warm summer evenings.

Wooden bowls arrived at our table with crunchy tortilla chips and a smoky brick colored salsa. Chef Vega’s DSC_0479guacamole is made with avocado, Mexican spiced dried mangos, cotija cheese, lime and toasted crickets. Yes, crickets. They are small, crunchy and complement the smooth creaminess of the dip.

Each dish we ordered arrived in a beautiful wooden serving plate. Vega’s beloved grandfather was a carpenter and she fondly remembers the feel and smell of his wood creations. She wanted to incorporate this sensation with her cuisine, inspired by years of cooking with her grandmother in the Mexican seaside town of Tuxpan in Nayarit. Because she and her staff put so much talent and time into the food, she is proud to show off her work in such beautiful crafted pieces.

Vega’s grandparents owned a popular, family-owned restaurant in Mexico called Restaurant el Costeno, from which she draws much of her inspiration. One of her specialties is corn. She makes a unique corn risotto served with slow roasted chicken, and has won numerous awards for this dish. Vega uses the entire ear of corn, cuts the tips of the corn kernel, scrapes the pulp, and adds onion, wine and other ingredients as you would add to make a risotto, except for the rice. Then she chops the stem and seasons the delicious simmering corn with salt and pepper. It’s spectacularly tasty and different from any corn dish that I have tasted.

There are at least nine street tacos to choose from on a daily basis at Cocina Condesa. On Taco Tuesday, patrons may order any two tacos for $5. Choose from a variety of tacos that include Al Pastor (succulent pork); Carne Asada (skirt steak); vegetarian cactus or Carnitas made from braised pork shoulder. While the tacos are served in traditional street style in corn tortillas, Vega and her team will serve them Paleo-style in Boston lettuce leaves when requested.

DSC_0481Be sure to order her street corn brushed with lemon aioli, cotija cheese, chili and lime — an amped-up, flavorful rendition of classic street corn on a stick.

Other restaurant specialties include chocolate mole chicken enchiladas, corn masa crepes, sopas, tortas and empanadas.

The menu features a variety of salads, including a healthy, grilled, chili glazed salmon with mesclun spring greens, orange sections, red onion, cucumber, avocado, jicama, and pine nuts dressed with a lemon vinaigrette and served in a large wooden bowl.

The servers at the newly opened restaurant are very personable and eager to please. It’s a fun, casual dining spot to go to before or after the Hollywood Bowl or to meet friends for cocktails served in a brown or plastic bag with a side of roasted crickets to perk up your guacamole.

Open at 11 a.m. for lunch and Happy Hour is from 3 to 6:30 p.m. daily. Dinner service begins at 4 p.m. $$ 11616 Ventura Blvd., Studio City (818) 579-4264.

This article was published in the July 16, 2015 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

LA Vegan Wine & Cheese Tasting This Weekend

design-1024x1024This weekend at downtown’s popular Arts District, The Springs is having a weekend marketplace featuring artisan and handcrafted vendors on Saturday, July 18 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The next day, The Springs is hosting an informative Vegan Wine & Cheese Tasting. The fun starts on Sunday, July 19th at 3pm. Sommeliers will pour six different Summertime Rieslings and Rosés flights paired with house-made vegan cheeses.

Jared Stein and Kimberly Helms created The Springs as a one-stop-shop for wellness, offering healing massage, infrared sauna treatment, and relaxing yoga. Book a session before or after visiting the marketplace or the tasting. The cafe offers a full menu of raw, vegan dishes including Sweet Corn Ravioli, Polenta, and Spicy “Tuna” Rolls.

Tickets can be purchased for $20 at TheSpringsLA.com or by emailing tickets@thespringsla.com.

608 Mateo Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021 (213)223-6226.  info@thespringsla.com

5 dineLA Restaurants To Experience in the San Fernando Valley

the-gadarene-swine10628524_741280945906993_2991626307606852015_n0With rents for brick & mortar restaurants in Los Angeles continuing to rise, The San Fernando Valley has become an attractive destination for some of the hottest chefs in Los Angeles to prepare some outstanding fare.

Summer dineL.A. Restaurant Week is now through July 26, 2015, showcasing some of the Valley’s premier dining destination with specially priced prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus. Here are 5 reasons to dine in Calabasas, Sherman Oaks and Studio City:

1. The Gadarene Swine

The Gadarene Swine_Dinner1

Chef Phillip Frankland Lee and Pastry Chef Margarita opened their second restaurant in Studio City after their first restaurant – Scratch Bar became an overnight sensation.

The Gadarene Swine offers an intimate, casual experience with dazzling vegetable dishes as the focus of the menu.

For dineLA order his multiple-course vegan menu is $25 per person and 6-course dinner is $50. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

11266 Ventura Blvd. Studio City, CA 91604 – (818) 508-5500.

2. Public School 818

Located across from the Sherman Oaks Galleria, this chef-driven gastropub teaches “An Education in the Art of Food & Beer.”  School is open daily on Monday through Friday at 11:30am- and Saturday Public School_Dinner2_18and Sunday at 10:00am. Happy Hour or Recess for Food is on Monday through Friday from 4 to 6:30pm and Drinks from Monday through Friday 4 to 7pm.

Read my review of Public School 818 published in the Beverly Press – http://beverlypress.com/2015/04/back-to-school-night-public-school-818-grade-a-gastropub/. The dineLA dinner is $30.00 per person. 15300 Ventura Blvd, #102G – Sherman Oaks, CA 91403 – (818) 728-9818

3. Tipple & Brine If you like/love Gjelina in Venice, you will enjoy Tipple & Brine in Sherman Oaks. It’s a neighborhood oyster bar focused on sustainable, seasonal, and the overall Tipple and Brine_Dinner_30best available products. It has the Gjelina feel with distressed wood, Restoration Hardware decor in a sophisticated, but casual environment. The servers are friendly and Chef Marc Johnson freshly prepared food offerings, craft cocktails, local beers, small production wines. Read my review of Tipple & Brine published in the Beverly Press – http://beverlypress.com/2015/04/tipple-brine-oysters-cocktails-and-a-speakeasy-bar/. The hours are from Sun-Wed 5pm-11pm and Thurs. through Sat. they stay open until 12am Happy Hour is from Mon. 4:30pm-11pm and Tue-Fri 4:30pm-6:30pm. Late Night Happy Hour is on Mon-Sat 10pm-12am. The dine LA dinner is $40.00 14633 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks, CA 91403 (818) 528-2550.

4. Saddle Peak Lodge Saddle Peak Lodge_Dinner_29Half way between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley off of Las Virgenes Road is a warm, rustic retreat tucked away in the Santa Monica mountains. Guests dine on hearty game and fish dishes in multiple dining rooms that evokes a luxury hunting lodge. The restaurant is open on Monday through Friday froom 6:00 – 9:00pm. On Sat evenings 5:00 to 10:00pm and Sunday from 5 to  9:00pm. Sunday Brunch is from 10:30am to 2:00pm. Happy Hour is Monday through Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. Dinner is $50.00 per person. 419 Cold Canyon Road. Calabasas, CA 91302-2204 – (818) 222-3888

5. Downtown Johnny Downtown Johnnys_Dinner_4Just a few doors down from Tipple & Brine is another Chef Marc Johnson restaurant serving up classic American fare and craft cocktails until the wee hours. It’s Open Daily Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 2 a.m. Happy Hour is daily from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Dinner is $30.00 per person. 14649 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403  – (818) 205-1616.

Marie Callender’s Summer Backyard BBQ

image002-6Enjoy iconic dishes of the season this summer with a summer Backyard BBQ and classic Apple Pie at a great value.

For $15.99, Marie Callender’s offers a Build-Your-Own BBQ platter that includes a choice of two main dishes with two sides. Entrees include grilled BBQ chicken breast, St. Louis BBQ ribs, Grilled BBQ shrimp skewer, or slow roasted Tri-tip.

Sides include BBQ baked beans, almond coleslaw, Southern-style mac n’ cheese, or corn on the cob. Add cup of soup, house salad or slice of pie for $1.99. Season fresh fruit pies and cheesecakes are not included in this price.image003-5

Marie Callender’s features four delicious BBQ entrées on their menu starting at $9.99 for turkey sliders. Dry-rubbed and slow roasted turkey breast, thinly shaved then topped with BBQ sauce and almond coleslaw on mini ciabatta rolls, served with fries.

The BBQ pulled pork sandwich is tender, slow-cooked pork in BBQ sauce with almond coleslaw and crispy onion tanglers on toasted bun and fries for $11.99.

image004Order the Tri-tip & Wedge Salad plate offering slow roasted tri-tip served with a crisp iceberg lettuce wedge with tomato, hard-boiled egg, Applewood smoked bacon, green onion, gorgonzola cheese, crispy onion tanglers and blue cheese dressing for $12.99.

The Tri-tip sandwich is $13.99. It’s a plate with slow-roasted tri-tip, BBQ sauce and crispy onion tanglers on a grilled French baguette, served with fries.

This summer the classic Apple pie is $7.99 plus tin. The Apple Pie is made with tart sliced apples that have been sweetened and lightly-spiced with cinnamon. Limited time only. Price and participation may vary per location.

Marie Callender’s is also offering a new Crave & Save Menu with 16 handcrafted meals ranging from $6 to $9. These dishes are served all day long.

Enjoy gourmet grilled cheese with bacon sandwiches, Marie Callender’s famous quiche with salad, and a hearty fish & shrimp plate. Add a soup, house salad or slice of pie for just $1.99.

In the Los Angeles area, there is a Marie Callender’s at the following locations:

Marie Callender’s on National

1324 National Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
(310) 478-0347

Marie Callender’s on S Atlantic Blvd
220 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA
(626) 281-9548

Marie Callender’s on Florence Ave
7860 Florence Ave
Downey, CA
(562) 927-3327

Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery on Montebello Town Ctr
1852 Montebello Town Ctr
Montebello, CA
(323) 722-7437

What’s New At This Year’s LA Street Food Festival

IMG_6004Wow! This year the LA Street Food Festival was impressive with over 100 vendors. It ran more smoothly than in the past few years and everyone seemed to have a smile on their face.

Here’s what’s new, innovative and worked well at this year’s festival at the Pasadena Rose Bowl –

1. New Hours – Gates opened at 3 p.m. this year. Fortunately, it wasn’t a scorching hot day. The festival continued until 8 p.m.

2. This year, guests were offered a cardboard tray that looked like a individual size pizza box. It had a drink and shot holder and space for at least three small plates. Ingenious. It’s called a FreeHand ThumbTray and was a big hit at the festival. There were a few of the sponsors and participants advertising on the tray. As we all walked around the Rose Bowl their name was  communicated in a unique way. To learn more, go to www.freehandtrays.com or http://www.carryoutsupplies.com.

3. The layout included the historical Rose Bowl field this year. They even had a Rose Garden VIP Lounge down on the turf. Guest could enter through selected gates and take a seat in one of the stadium seats or take a nap before indulging in more food and beverages.IMG_5981

4. There was a separate VIP line at Gate F and a General Admission entrance at the opposite end of the stadium at Gate C. This helped give the illusion that the lines weren’t as long in the parking lots and at the entrance.

5. The $90 VIP ticket allowed foodies 90 minutes (that’s $1 a minute, and worth it) to enjoy the event before the General Admission crowd entered the festival. The lines were much shorter for VIP guests to enjoy all the food trucks and tents, plus gain full access to two VIP areas – one in the Garden Concourse near the main stage and the other down on the Rose Bowl field. The Coachella style Garden VIP area had Celebrity chef Phillip Frankland Lee creating innovative plates and lounge furniture by West Elm to kick back with some creative fare and tasty cocktails. IMG_5992

6. Upon entering, guests were given an easy to read illustrated map of the festival. The Latin cuisine tents were designated with colorful fiesta flags, beer tents were dotted along the pathway with steins of foamy beer. Asian cuisine was marked with a Chinese take-out box with chopsticks. American dishes were noted with American flags and the European area was a wrap. Desserts were ice-cream cones, donuts and creamy floats with a straw.

7. Instead of free bottled water, they gave away boxed water. I learned that The Boxed Water container is far more sustainable than plastic bottled water. About 76% of the box is from a renewable resource – trees.

8. New Additions to the festival this year were Osso, IMLI, Berliners, Tacoteca, Sweetfin Poke, Scratch Bar, Gadarene Swine, Bachi Burger, and Thee Elbow Room. I really enjoyed the chefs at the artisanal French Food Truck serving IMG_5922Croque Madame and open face Croques with foie gras shredded on top.

9. Veggie festival-goers gorged on One Veg World barbecued Dragon fruit sliders and Chef Phillip Frankland Lee’s Gadarene Swine’s veggie shots in the serene VIP Lounge.

10. Plenty of Alcohol – There was the Tequila Tasting Tent in the Latin area with pours of Angel Bendito Tequila, Corazon Azul, Tequila Don Nacho and a Michi Mobil serving micheledas. Beer aficionados sipped generous pours from Angel City Brewery, Firestone Walker, Stella Artois, Goose Island and Singha. Cocktails were served at Church Key, Venice Whaler and Corner Door booths.

11. I cooled down at The Ice Cream Social area grabbing tastes from the McConnell’s truck, Sno Creamery tent, Choctal, and Salt & Straw. IMG_6001

12. I loved the new addition of an air-conditioned comedy bus. Hot or weary guests entered a former prison bus, now decorated like a nightclub lounge, to sit back and laugh at a few jokes and comedic routines. I’m already looking forward to next year’s La Street Food Festival in July 2016!

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